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Judge Chews Out CAS
May 19, 2007 permalink
A Nova Scotia judge has lambasted the Children's Aid Society of Cape Breton-Victoria for misleading the court. The society has responded with a programmed answer indicating no real intention to reform.
Last updated at 11:15 PM on 18/05/07
Judge slams children’s aid society for misleading court
STEVE MACINNIS, The Cape Breton Post
SYDNEY — The Children’s Aid Society of Cape Breton-Victoria has breached the very act it is supposed to uphold by intentionally and deliberately withholding information in a child custody case, a Supreme Court judge has ruled.
In a scathing decision, Justice Theresa Forgeron described the testimony of two agency workers — Marilyn MacNeil and her supervisor John Janega — as incredulous, unconvincing and evasive and both were deemed not to be credible.
“The agency made a decision that the children should be with their father and by their failure to disclose made it impossible for this court to properly assess the best interests of the children,” said Forgeron in her decision which stems from an application by a Cape Breton mother to have her two children returned to her care.
“I find the agency did indeed mislead the court and the mother. It remained silent and provided affidavits and other documents which failed to disclose the true circumstances confronting the children.”
The judge said the agency went to great lengths to ensure negative information concerning its plan would not be reviewed by the court.
“I do not accept that this egregious failure to disclose could be anything other than intentional and deliberate. I find that the only plausible reason for doing so was to ensure the court accepted the agency’s plan to have the children placed in their father’s care,” said Forgeron.
In accordance with the Children and Family Services Act, the names of the parents and the children cannot be made public. Also, the act provides for mandatory disclosure by the agency except in certain circumstances which Forgeron ruled were not applicable in this particular case.
The local agency apprehended the children in 2005 from their mother and the agency consented to allow the children to move out of Nova Scotia with their father. The decision was also approved by the court. But the mother later learned details of her offsprings’ new home life and requested a review of the decision. The court directed full and complete disclosure by the agency to the mother.
In her decision, Forgeron lists nine specific areas in which she felt the agency failed to make prompt and balanced disclosure including failing to disclose the father’s new common-law partner had been subject to numerous interventions by another child protection agency. Issues in those cases included domestic violence, neglect and filth in the home, and inappropriate supervision which resulted in one child burning down the home which killed another child. Other information not initially disclosed to the court included allowing one child to live away from the father, which breached an earlier court order, and failing to make reference to protection concerns by the father prior to taking the children out of Nova Scotia.
According to the decision, Janega testified such information was not germane to the agency’s decision to allow the father to parent the children. Both he and MacNeil were at a loss to offer an explanation why such information was not initially made available.
Marie Boone, the agency’s executive director, said Friday steps have been taken to ensure such information never again goes astray.
She said staff is now receiving additional training to ensure all information is properly documented.
“These cases are never black and white and this is only one in hundreds of cases we deal with,” said Boone, adding any decision on disciplinary action is an internal matter.
She said the agency, the second largest in the province, handles about 1,000 cases annually and that Forgeron’s decision should not diminish the dedicated and competent work staff has performed in other cases.
Boone said the decision has been shared with the agency’s board of directors and the Department of Community Services which have both urged additional staff training.
A department spokesperson was not immediately available for comment Friday.
Forgeron ruled that both children are to be returned to Cape Breton and into the care of the agency with provisions for counselling. She also awarded costs in the case to the mother who declined it, urging that such money be used for services to families.
Source: Cape Breton Post
Addendum: The judge provoked an internal review within the Department of Community Services.
Court ruling prompts review of children's aid group
Workers found to have left out key details in case
Last Updated: Friday, June 8, 2007 | 11:27 AM AT, CBC News
The Department of Community Services is investigating the actions of the Children's Aid Society in Cape Breton after a court found staff gave misleading information about a case.
"Obviously when a concern is identified, we need to address it quickly and learn from it and hope we can move on," said Leonard Doiron, co-ordinator of children protection services with the department.
The incident came to light when a woman from Sydney went to family court to get custody of her 13-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter, who had been sent to live with their father in Alberta.
Evidence at a hearing showed the Children's Aid Society of Cape Breton-Victoria was aware of his common-law wife's 12-year record with the agency, before the children were sent to Calgary.
In a letter dated six days before the children left for Alberta in February 2006, the Calgary Children's Aid Society informed the Cape Breton agency of allegations of domestic violence, sexual abuse between children, neglect and filth in the home.
Calgary workers visited the house six weeks after the children arrived and filed a positive report. But four days later, they found a household in disarray, and described neglect, constant fighting and drug use by the father.
The two children were subsequently separated and placed with various relatives.
In March, Justice Theresa Forgeron found child protection worker Marilyn MacNeil and her supervisor, John Janega, misled the family court in Cape Breton and failed to disclose the true circumstances confronting the children in Calgary.
In her report, Forgeron said the agency knew that its plan to send the children to Alberta would be in jeopardy if the court knew about the common-law wife's history, and said not including that information in the file was intentional and deliberate.
Society executive director Marie Boone acknowledges the court should have had that information, but she says all of the circumstances were considered before the children were sent to Alberta.
"The information was considered as part of a lot of information in that decision-making process," Boone said, adding she could not reveal details about the case.
Doiron will not discuss specifics either, but said a case like this would have priority status.
The Children's Aid Society is a private agency, but it is funded 100 per cent by the provincial government and falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Community Services and the Child and Family Services Act.
Two people from the department have been to Sydney to talk to all of the workers involved and are going through the files.
While the Children's Aid Society awaits the department's recommendations, Boone said she's making sure workers are trained to properly document their cases and prepare for court. She would not say whether any disciplinary action was taken.
Addendum: A later article gives more details on the case. The announced management change will improve relations with the court. It may not help children — this is the same province that besieged and jailed Carline VandenElsen and Larry Fink without ever giving a reason.
Community Services takes over Cape Breton children's aid society
Last Updated: Friday, August 17, 2007 | 9:30 AM AT, CBC News
The Children's Aid Society of Cape Breton-Victoria is now under the direct supervision of the provincial Community Services Department.
The department stepped in after a Family Court judge publicly criticized two of the society's caseworkers in March for withholding information from the court and a parent in a custody case.
That scathing report from the bench led to a departmental review of the society.
What the department found prompted the temporary takeover that will likely last for the next year, Community Services Minister Judy Streatch said Thursday.
"We do routine audits of the children's aid societies across the province. We had already just completed a review and so we went in with a more forensic analysis, so to speak. And we were able to look [at] varying pieces of information," Streatch said.
"We learned that there were deficiencies in the agency's case management and there were a certain number of provincial standards not being met and so certainly we took that very seriously."
Streatch would not say what deficiencies were found, nor would she say what has happened to the society's executive director, Marie Boone.
A news release said a new director will be appointed soon.
"We've got a board of directors who have got a history of understanding the community, and the unique needs of the families and the children. And we've got a staff who are prepared to do the very challenging work of child welfare," Streatch said.
"What we need to do now is as a department go in, work with the board of directors to assist the agency to ensure that what we've got in place is a consistent set of standards, a consistent set of training that allows the agency to do just that."
The incident began when a Sydney woman went to family court in Cape Breton to gain custody of her 13-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter, who were living with their father in Alberta.
Evidence at a hearing showed the Children's Aid Society of Cape Breton-Victoria was aware that the common-law wife of the children's father had a 12-year record with the Calgary Children's Aid Society before the children were sent to live with him in that city.
In a letter dated six days before the children left Cape Breton for Alberta in February 2006, the Calgary Children's Aid Society informed the Cape Breton agency of allegations of domestic violence, sexual abuse between children, neglect and filth in the common-law wife's home.
Household in disarray
Six weeks after the children arrived in Calgary, local children's aid workers visited the house and filed a positive report. But four days later, they found a household in disarray. The workers described neglect, constant fighting and drug use by the father.
The two children were then separated and placed with various relatives.
Family Court Judge Theresa Forgeron found Cape Breton child protection worker Marilyn MacNeil and her supervisor, John Janega, misled the family court and did not disclose the true circumstances confronting the children in Calgary.
In her report, Forgeron said the agency knew that its plan to send the children to Alberta would be in jeopardy if the court knew about the common-law wife's history.
The judge said not including that information in the file was intentional and deliberate.